This week I’m here in Charleston, South Carolina, where I am continuing my research work on The Humourist. For this trip, however, I decided to stay off the beaten path: I’m out on Sullivan’s Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Edgar Allan Poe spent thirteen months here at Fort Moultrie, beginning November 18, 1827, and it was here on Sullivan’s Island that he wrote his famous short story, “The Gold Bug.”
Later this morning, I’ll be visiting the South Carolina History Room, Charleston County Public Library. I want to examine some land plats from the 1750s when the Humourist was publishing his essays in the South Carolina Gazette, and I want to examine some wills from the period. Obviously, I’m looking for the will of the person I believe to be The Humourist. I want to see whether the will contains any information that might confirm that he is actually the writer!
I realize, of course, that it’s a long shot, but who knows! Last week, I was chatting with one of my colleague’s about my research, and I mentioned to him that I was 99% certain who wrote the essays, but I still hoped to find a direct statement somewhere that “Mr. X” was The Humourist. My colleague looked at me and wisely replied, “You’ll never find it because it probably doesn’t exist.” He’s probably right, and I know that I won’t find such a statement in The Humourist’s will. However, I might find such a statement in someone’s diary, someone’s journal, or someone’s letters. And who knows: I might just find it on this research trip.
I keep reminding myself, however, that identifying the author of these essays is only part of my project. The larger and more important part is making the Humourist essays available to students, scholars, and the world at large. I am well on my way to doing just that by making the essays available here in this blog.
You will recall that last week’s Controlled Revelation #3 left me reeling because I discovered multiple passages in the Humourist essays that were identical to passages that had appeared in a series of “Castle Building” essays that had been published in The Student under the name of Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis. I offered up two possibilities, as follows:
“The Humourist is a plagiarist, and I have just unwittingly disclosed what may well be the first documented case of academic dishonesty in Colonial America.
“Or, shifting to a more optimistic possibility, is it possible that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same? If that’s the case, the parallel passages are all fine and well because a writer may certainly borrow from his own work and use it in multiple publications! More, though, if that’s the case—if Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same—I have just expanded significantly what I believed to be The Humourist’s literary canon.”
Since last week, I have discovered that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis was a pseudonym used by English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771). Smart, not The Humourist, is the author of the “Castle Building” essays that appeared in The Student.
Therefore, I must report that Continue reading